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London councils skirt six-week rule for homeless families (Inside Housing)

London families are being forced to share bathrooms and kitchens with strangers for long periods, as councils make use of an exemption in the law on temporary accommodation, an Inside Housing investigation has revealed.

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Picture: Getty

Homeless families are being housed for protracted periods in council-owned properties, Inside Housing has discovered, in conditions that would be illegal if their temporary accommodation was privately owned.

The law states that families should not be housed in non-self-contained temporary accommodation for more than six weeks, but if the property is owned or managed by a council, housing association or charity, it is exempt.

To investigate whether this loophole was being used in the capital, Inside Housing sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all 33 London boroughs.

The responses revealed that 24 London councils own hostel-style accommodation and a further request showed that five – Camden, Lambeth, Kingston, Barking & Dagenham, and Redbridge – have used this accommodation to house families for longer than six weeks. Only eight councils were able to respond to this second request.

Lambeth Council, for example, had 104 families sharing facilities for longer than six months (see table below) in its directly owned accommodation.

Non-self contained accommodation owned or run by Lambeth Council:
Families resident longer than six weeks 135
Longer than six months 104
Families in all other non-self-contained accommodation:
Families resident longer than six weeks 9
Longer than six months 0

Source: council responses to Inside Housing information requests

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: “Sadly, as with every other London borough, we have a demand for temporary accommodation that exceeds supply. The available accommodation is being used in the best way possible to ensure people have a roof over their heads.”

Camden Council had 21 families in non-self-contained temporary accommodation for more than six weeks, all in properties owned by the council. Nineteen had been there for more than six months. The council said the accommodation “bears no comparison to that provided by bed and breakfast private sector hoteliers”.

Number of hostels by London borough (click on boroughs for data)


However, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Spending long periods of time living in a B&B or hostel and having to share kitchens or bathrooms with strangers puts families under huge emotional and physical strain. That’s why it’s essential councils aim to move families somewhere more suitable within six weeks, even if the accommodation is council-owned.”

Charity the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust called for the exemption for council-owned hostels to be removed.

This story was originally published in Inside Housing

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